BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Your family is burgeoning, you've got expenses sprouting from everywhere and the last thing you want is to fork out major amounts of money for a new mini-MPV. By the same token, you don't especially relish buying something ancient that could leave you stranded by the roadside. What do you do? Tracking down a used Kia Carens would be one option. Outrageous value for money is always a good leveller.
Models Covered: (5 dr MPV 1.8, 2.0 petrol, 2.0 CRDi diesel [SX, GSX, GS, SE, LX, LE])
The Carens first went on sale in July 2000 and it would probably be fair to say that it has been slightly overshadowed by the runaway success of its larger sibling, the Sedona, a model that offers the internal dimensions of a Boeing assembly hangar. The Carens is more manageably sized but still fairly spacious and is available with one engine, a 1.8-litre 108bhp unit, but in two separate trim levels, SX or GSX. The 2.0-litre CRDi diesel engine was introduced later and from the start of 2005, that impressive engine was the only one offered in the Carens until a 2.0-litre CVVT petrol unit arrives later that year. Around the same period the trim level range was revised to GS, LX and LE. A new Kia Carens emerged in 2006 to replace this model.
What You Get
How many seats should a mini-MPV have? Ought it to be five (like the Scenic, the Mazda Premacy or the Nissan Almera Tino)? Or at least six (like the Vauxhall Zafira, Fiat Multipla or Toyota's Picnic)? The answer depends on your priorities of course, but it's useful that the Kia alone offers the option at the showroom stage of going either way. The standard Carens came with room for five people as standard, but for £500 more, you could add a third row of seats to be taken in and out as necessary. Opt for that third row and the back seat bench is replaced by two separate seats, leaving room for two further seats to be inserted behind them. Room theoretically then, for six people inside. It's important to point out that unlike those chairs you'll find in obvious main rivals, none of these seats (or indeed the bench you get in the five-seater version) can be removed, stowed away or slid back and forth. The question of course is how often you'd really do this anyway. When was the last time you saw a Renault Scenic without its full complement of seats? And would you really be prepared to pay a hefty premium for the privilege of having that option? The sub-£10,000 price tag bought you only the fairly basic Carens SX model. Having said that, even the fully-loaded GSX (with air conditioning, ABS, central locking, electric windows and mirrors, alloy wheels, two-tone paintwork and roof rails with a 100kg weight capacity) managed to undercut the most weedily-powered, stripped-out versions of its two main rivals. You pays your money and takes your choice. But what kind of choice might you expect to make if your cheque is pointed in Kia's direction? Well, as already suggested, it's a lot of car for the money - as long as you know what you're buying. And what you're buying is rather different from what the brochure tells you. For a start, the 'five' seater version isn't really going to be very comfortable for five adults. This is mainly due to the fact that the centre passenger on the rear bench must sit on an uncomfortable raised cushion. Which wouldn't be too bad if (like most families) you'd be more likely to be carrying two adults with a child in the centre. The only problem with that is that in this position, your offspring will only have a lap belt, rather than the proper three-point affair. The six-seater version is probably a better bet, though having said that, you wouldn't want to incarcerate two large adults in the two rearmost places for very long. Think of them as two extra children's seats and you'll be much more comfortable. As with virtually all cars of this kind, use all the passenger room available and you'll struggle when it comes to luggage space. Best to save up for a roof box if you plan to do this on a regular basis. Or of course, consider Kia's larger Sedona MPV - a not uncommon course of action amongst UK used car buyers.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The interior of the Carens is tougher than you may expect given its lowly price but it's well worth checking for rips, stains and other damage to upholstery and minor trim parts. Inspect for parking knocks and make sure that tyre wear looks normal, as the CArens can have its tracking quite easily knocked out of kilter by savage bumping over kerbs. Kias bear up pretty well reliability-wise, but do check for its service history and contact a few franchised dealers to try to find the best bargain available.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2000 1.8 GSX) Kia spares prices have gained an enviable reputation for good value, and replacement parts for the Carens are no exception. A clutch assembly is around £220, whilst front brake pads weigh in at around £40. An alternator will cost around £130, and for a starter motor you'll be looking at £115. A replacement headlamp will require £110.
On the Road
On the road, the Carens' 1.8-litre petrol engine (the only powerplant currently on offer) should prove willing enough, developing a useful 128bhp and plenty of pulling power, driving the front wheels via a light but rather vague-feeling five-speed gearbox. That means rest to sixty in 11.3 seconds on the way to 115mph. Expect to average around 25mpg around town and around 30mpg in normal use, figures that will fall significantly should you opt for the 4-speed automatic. The 2.0-litre CRDi common-rail diesel engine offered in later models is a preferable option if you can afford one. Its 112bhp is less than the output of the 1.8-litre petrol unit but the 40mpg fuel consumption and punchy power delivery are major plus points.
The Carens is a good deal better than it deserves to be at the prices charged. It'll never offer anything remotely slick or stylish, but that's what you're not paying for. We knew you'd see sense.